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The ideal enemy
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The ideal enemy

Folks on the Jewish left in America are driven by a deadly confusion about who is on their side and who is against them.

Jonathan Greenblatt, director of the Anti-Defamation League, recently tried to explain the present upsurge of anti-Israel and anti-Jewish sentiment in the United State as the work of “white supremacists and the alt-right ilk who kill Jews.” Being a careful observer of what’s going on politically, I’ve noticed multitudes of “anti-Zionists on the left.” But I haven’t seen all of those “white supremacists” whom the ADL dreads at anti-Israeli and in some cases anti-Jewish demonstrations. In my region of south-central Pennsylvania, which abounds with evangelical Christians, I am struck by the outpouring of intense pro-Israeli sentiment from these pious residents. The same generous sentiment came through in an announcement by the fundamentalist Christians Franklin Graham and John Hagee, pledging devotion to the Israeli cause.

Perhaps the ADL and other left-wing Jewish organizations inhabit a different world from mine. But in the one in which I reside, the Christian right is not an enemy but a friend of the Israelis. For the very sizable Jewish left, however, devout Christians in nonurban areas remain the enemies, while Black Lives Matter, NPR, and LGBTQ+ and other alphabet people are allies against a ubiquitous Christian conservative adversary.

While reality doesn’t fit the liberal Jewish narrative, a predictable response has been to invent a story that suits people’s emotional needs. The Central Committee for Jews in Germany, which shares the political and cultural outlook of our ADL, is trying hard to ban the Alternative für Deutschland, the only non-woke, non-leftist national party in Germany. The Central Committee’s leadership is enraged that the AFD is calling for restricting the influx of Muslim migrants into Germany. Although the migrants have been attacking Jews on the streets of German cities, the Central Committee’s director expresses fervent solidarity with the antifascist newcomers. After all, they are the enemy of the indigenous Germans, who, according to the Committee’s understanding of reality, swarm with anti-Jewish nationalists (evidence for which seems to be lacking).

All of this got me thinking about an old notion of mine, which continues to find confirmation in current events. Carl Schmitt, the subject of much of my scholarship, was undoubtedly correct that friend-enemy relations go a long way toward explaining what Schmitt called “the Political,” that is, the most intense antagonism affecting human associations. Although we may try to restrict or institutionalize that antagonism, it sometimes erupts in brutal forms — as is now happening in the Middle East.

This belligerence sometimes expresses itself in a particularly bizarre way, for example, when we start confusing friends and foes. That is exactly what I’m now witnessing on the pro-Israel Jewish left in the United States (a category from which I’m excluding Jewish conservatives and most Orthodox Jews). These folks are driven by a deadly confusion about who is on their side and who is against them, and this confusion has become particularly problematic as they try to make the present situation confirm their stereotypes.

The facts on the ground are exactly the opposite of what liberal Jews want to believe. Older Americans, who tend to be devout Christians, are Israel’s firmest allies. Those who these leftists would like to think are their buds are mostly on the other side and generally seem pleased with Israel’s enemies and not particularly well disposed toward Jews as a group.

Yes, I know there are stock explanations for this weird behavior — e.g., that Jews instinctively side with the downtrodden and that Jews suffered under Christian tyranny and are therefore on guard about yielding any ground to conservative Christians in America.

Unfortunately, none of this stuff, which is often based on faded folk memories, makes sense any more. The left with which Jewish liberals identify are race hustlers, women who advocate late-term abortion, teachers’ unions who favor gender changes for young children, and those nuts who are trying to abolish gender distinctions altogether. The Christian persecutors whom Jewish liberals fear and lament have been dead for generations and have nothing to do with contemporary American Christians, who defend Hebrew biblical, not Nazi, morality and who have rallied to the Israeli cause.

But adherence to the ideal enemy in this case remains a powerful emotion, however much it may clash with certain facts. Daniel McCarthy has underscored in a recent New York Post column the stark choice that liberals — especially Jewish liberals — may be forced to make between Joe Biden’s bleeding southern border and American support for Israel. According to McCarthy, the more Christian and older the American, the more likely he is to favor Israel and share the philo-Semitic sentiments of Christian evangelicals. The more the country resembles what the left is trying to make it into, the less secure Jewish liberals will feel about life in America and American assistance for Israel.

Let us pose a question bluntly that Matthew Boose poses at least indirectly in Chronicles: Which should matter more to liberal Jews, a de-Christianized, less white, and younger America or the all the advantages that traditional America has offered American and Israeli Jews?

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